Retail Disrupt: Israel's First Retail Technology and Innovation Conference

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Last month I attended Retail Disrupt, Israel’s very first conference on Retail Technology and Innovation. Set against the industrial backdrop of Rishon Letzion, the event took place at the new Lagos complex. A layperson in the field of Startup and Tech, almost every session I attended revealed some new facet of the tech or retail industry that I didn’t know existed. Without regurgitating the entire event for you, I will share with you my 3 takeaways; Israel is ahead of the pack in female entrepreneurship and the tech world, what sets us apart is our transparency, tenacity and chutzpah and newbie Re: Tech is successfully forging deep connections between off-shore clients and Israeli talent.

Retail Disrupt: On Female Entrepreneurship and Representation 

What initially struck me as unexpected was not the fabulous food, impressive views, or packed floorshow but rather the presence of women. Given that less than 5% of Silicon Valley startups or Fortune 500 companies are headed by women, I really hadn’t expected to see many. Not only were women present but we represented- 24% of the lectures were presented by women, one-third of the booths were operated by women, and approximately one-third of the attendees were female. Of the 11 women presenting half of them were CEOs, co-founders of their own successful startups or independent entrepreneurs. Many of them were also mothers. I know this because the organizers included this detail in each presenter’s introduction and what was evident here was that these women were not only killing it in their sector but also managing to do so in life.


Israel: Transparency, Tenacity, and Chutzpah

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In the first panel of entrepreneurs, understanding your audience- the first fundamental of the retail and sales paradigm was addressed. This conversation focused around Generation Z, the most significant driving force in the shift within the retail industry. Generation Z represents 40% of shoppers with a unique interest and spending power. Phil Staub, Owner and Executive Chairman of General Pants Co and Ksubi, two huge fashion entities from Australia, discussed the reality of the digitally native Gen Z-er. Korin Avraham, the woman behind YaSalam described her audience as “fully immersed, multitasking, knows what they want” and Lihi Pinto Fryman, CMO and one half of the team behind Israel tech company Syte, discussed what was most important to consider is this Generation's desire for “instant gratification”. Staub continued to explain that knowing “what they want and engaging with them authentically makes the difference…they are motivated by lifestyle, experience, travel, and you have to work outside of the box to pique their interest”. Staub continues, “we try to create an environment where they feel like they belong”. 

In the same vein, John Mooney, creative director at ASOS, discussed the importance of not only understanding your audience but ensuring that you remain relevant to them- “relevancy is often the driving force for innovation”. Mooney explained that he and his team were looking to distinguish ASOS from other similar platforms by keeping it personal, “personalization as principle and ensuring we remain relevant to our customer base”- relevancy as relating to style, innovation, price point, acknowledging the price point and tax restrictions for the Israeli customer, and normalizing technology. “You can’t do everything and do it well so why not find someone who will do it well and integrate it seamlessly” stated Mooney. When asked why they chose Israel over other country’s startup tech, he said: “I think it’s the feistiness of the Israeli market…their…(someone suggested ‘chutzpah’) yes! They are direct and I don’t mind a direct conversation”. 

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And nothing was quite as direct as the panel of Venture Capitalists and Angel investors who opened up the conversation to discussing the hard truths regarding concept, interests and applying for and receiving funding. Some truths started rolling when Judah Taub, Managing Partner from Hetz Ventures revealed, “the number one worry for every CEO out there is that he will be fired for not adapting to some new trend…so when you ask us what we are looking for we are looking for a must-have technology”. Yonatan Machado, from Samsung Next, discussed startups and the strength they offer in their agility and Eran Bielski, from Entrée capital, advocated for the next risk takers and full stack solution systems. Contrarily, Dov Yarkoni, from Nielsen Innovate Fund spoke to no surprise about the value of innovation across the retail and supply chain- from manufacturing to shipping to bricks and mortar to the concept of the pop-up shop. In spite of their very different approaches, they all agreed on the fact that CEOs, VCs and Angel investors are more accessible than ever before. The panel concluded with some home truths that were at times hard to swallow- they suggested you start by getting an appointment, pitch hard, pitch again and if you still hear no, maybe it’s just not good enough, and you need to return to the beginning and start from scratch. Even with no skin in the game, I was sweating at the end of this session, so I can only imagine how the large audience of start-up wannabees felt.

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Re: Tech, Steve Lidbury and Where To Now?

Based in Tel Aviv and with an international reach, Re: Tech is an innovation hub for retail and e-commerce related technologies. Bringing together over 170 companies working on the next generation of disruptive technologies, Re: Tech was also one of the teams responsible for this conference. Yael Kochman, CEO and partner of Re: Tech shared that while she and her partner Alla Foht started Re: Tech only recently it actually evolved out of an existing need for a space integrating fashion, retail and e-commerce related startups to meet with investors, brands and industry leaders. 

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One of those industry leaders looking to Re: Tech was Eight, Inc. A holistic design firm that specializes in redesigning the human experience through special immersion techniques “that aims to change the way people think, feel and do”. During his keynote presentation, Steve Lidbury, an executive principal at the firm, explained that Eight, inc’s primary focus was on designing human experiences.  “We believe” he continued, “that design and innovation is a powerful tool for achieving better human outcomes which will return better business outcomes”. This, he explained, is what distinguishes them from other design and creative firms. With some of their largest success stories listed as Apple ‘Genius Bar’, Lincoln, Citi Bank, Nike and Virgin Atlantic Airways, they can’t be wrong. Lidbury concluded by urging us “to think about the now, what’s currently happening and leverage it to create the future, (to) try rethink the game” and this can only be done by understanding that “experiences can change your life”. So what is Eight, Inc doing in Israel? Like everyone else, they’re here looking for an opportunity. 

So where to now? Will we continue to only export our talent, tech and tenacious problem-solving skills? Retail and Service is one of the many fields lacking in Israel, so with all of these major international players in Retail and Service coming to Israel’s shore for their innovation, how can we make it work for us? Is it a case of the shoemaker’s children who go without shoes? It’s almost unheard of here- customer service solutions and seamless shopping experience- all I want to know is when will I hear someone in Israel ask ‘were you happy with your service?’ or “how can we improve the service for you?” and why are we so comfortable with the status quo?